L.A. Master Chorale hopes to raise its profile with a Nico Muhly CD and a new partnership with Decca


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For too long, music director Grant Gershon says, the Los Angeles Master Chorale has been ‘one of L.A.’s best-kept secrets -- people here know how good we are, but we want to spread the word far and wide.’

This month, the Chorale has taken a big step in that direction by recording its first CD at Walt Disney Concert Hall as part of a new partnership with Decca Music Group.


‘A Good Understanding,’ which will come out on the Decca Classics label, will feature six works by American composer Nico Muhly.

‘Nico’s music is a fantastic fit with the Master Chorale,’ Gershon says, ‘and Decca not only has wonderful resources and an international reputation, but shares many similar interests with us.’

The Chorale has made a half-dozen other recordings, two with Nonesuch and the rest with RCM, notably a 1998 Grammy-nominated CD of Morten Lauridsen pieces under then-music director Paul Salamunovich.

Executive director Terry Knowles says discussions with a smaller label were underway last year when an attorney she brought in to help with the talks heard Gershon and his singers perform and mentioned them to a friend who was head of Universal Music Group, Decca’s parent.

‘From there,’ Gershon says, ‘one thing led to another.’ The Chorale already had Muhly in its repertoire, he adds, ‘so it seemed like a logical starting point. Besides, Nico’s music is exciting, honest and sophisticated. He’s shockingly eclectic, commissioned by august pillars like the Metropolitan Opera and yet has relationships with Bjork and Grizzly Bear.’

Another plus, Gershon says, is that the 28-year-old Muhly ‘is kind of the ‘it’ boy in classical music. Decca, which is based in London, had their eye on him as well.’ The new CD contains three works that were given West Coast premieres by the Chorale -- ‘Expecting the Main Things from You,’ ‘Bright Mass with Canons’ and ‘First Service’ -- as well as the title piece, ‘Senex Puerum Portabat’ and ‘Like as the Hart.’


Accompanying the Master Chorale are organist Kimo Smith, the Los Angeles Children’s Chorus, a string quartet, a brass octet and a trio of percussionists.

Gershon had long hoped to record at Disney Hall, the Chorale’s home since 2003. He says the June 10-11 session ‘allowed us to capture the experience our audience has of hearing our sound, a natural acoustic sound, in a space known for acoustic brilliance.’

For ‘A Good Understanding,’ the Master Chorale paid the artistic, recording and production costs of about $165,000 -- ‘which is typical these days when you’re working with a label like this,’ Knowles says. ‘Decca’s job is to mass-produce, market and distribute.’

She says her organization ‘would not have made that kind of investment without a longer view in mind. We’re already talking about future projects.’

‘We hope to release the CD in the fall,’ Knowles says, ‘but it will definitely be out by March.’

The Decca recording coincides with the beginning of Gershon’s busy 10th anniversary season as music director. He will conduct the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Master Chorale on July 6 at the Hollywood Bowl and Los Angeles Opera’s world premiere of Daniel Catán’s ‘Il Postino,’ which opens Sept. 23. The Master Chorale’s 2010-11 season will begin three days later.


-- Karen Wada

Top photo: The Los Angeles Master Chorale performs in May at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Credit: Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times. Bottom photo: Composer Nico Muhly, left, and Los Angeles Master Chorale music director Grant Gershon backstage after a February 2009 concert at Disney Hall. Credit: Lee Salem.

L.A. Master Chorale announces 2010-11 season